Learning To Live With the ‘Alcoholic’ Label
Learning To Live With the ‘Alcoholic’ Label
-Article by Helen Barker
The first step to recovery, we all believe, is admitting that you’ve got a problem in the first place. We’ve all seen countless depictions of people standing up in 12 step programs and introducing themselves with “My name is X, and I’m an alcoholic”.
You have to accept, the theory runs, that you have a disease, and that this disease will be with you for the rest of your life. You must constantly self-identify as an alcoholic, surrender to the reality of your disease, and live in perpetual battle with yourself if you are ever to get anywhere with sobriety.
It’s not an entirely fair image, and this mode of recovery does not work for everyone.
However, the fact of the matter is that society deeply believes in the concept of the ‘alcoholic’ label. There are a lot of images and associations attached to that label, which can be hard to deal with in your post-alcohol life. If you are an alcoholic, you find yourself followed around not only by the demons of your own past, but by the demons of everyone else who has ever had a problem with alcohol. And by society’s own demons. This can be very off-putting – and can even prevent some people from getting treatment. After all, admitting the problem means accepting all of the baggage that the term ‘alcoholic’ brings with it.
When applying for things like health and life insurance, you will be required to disclose histories of alcoholism, smoking, and so on. This is often embarrassing, and can be an unwelcome confrontation with your past. For people whose method of ‘moving on’ involves wiping out and forgetting about past faults, this may provoke a crisis in confidence. It can hit their new self-image hard, and perhaps even trigger a relapse.
But there’s no real need to be concerned about your future insurance or employment prospects – most good insurers and employers will look at the bigger picture, and offer you a good deal based on more than the single factor of your history with alcohol. However, having to disclose your past can make it feel hard to ‘escape’.
Things are even worse when you socialize with friends, and have to persistently refuse drinks from well-meaning people. Inevitably, you will eventually have to explain that you’ve had issues with alcohol in the past, and you are now staying sober. You’ll feel that people are making a judgment about you, however, positively they respond, and you may well be right.
So how can you learn to live with the label ‘alcoholic’?
Firstly, remember that disclosure is your own choice. In situations when you have to disclose your history (in medical situations, for example), the people dealing with your information have no right to treat that information any less than professionally. No personal judgments should be made, and personal discrimination based upon what is essentially a mental illness is often prohibited by state law. Outside of compulsory situations, it is important to remember that your past is your own. While it may be beneficial to your particular mindset to surrender to it and be open about it, if you feel that it is more helpful to keep your history with alcoholism to yourself, you are perfectly entitled to do so. At no point should you ever feel shamed or obliged into disclosing your alcoholism.
Secondly, work on self-care, and gaining a good sense of self. The better you are at accepting, incorporating, and forgiving your “alcoholism,” the better able you will be to cope with the label. While you can’t influence the judgments of people you don’t know, you can influence your own judgment. The happier and more comfortable you are with yourself, the more facets of your personality will open up to the world. This means you will be able to give people more than the label of “alcoholic” to assess you by – and give you more of yourself to love.
Finally, understand that the societal view of alcoholism is a flawed one. It fails to take into account the complex and highly individual factors behind alcoholism. Other people’s ignorance of your circumstances is no excuse for judgment, but it is an explanation. Most importantly, don’t let other people’s judgments affect your own sense of self, especially when other people are unaware of the full facts. Your own self-knowledge and self-acceptance is truly what’s important here. The label is a nuisance – but it needn’t impact your deeper self any more than you are willing to let it.
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